When I lived in Paris in the late 1990s, I was *really* into entertaining. I regularly hosted groups of 4-6 friends for dinner. Sound fancy, huh? Well here are a few more facts for you to consider about those statements:
- For 4 of the 5+ years I lived in Paris, my apartment was 18m2 (just under 200 feet).
- In fact, it was not an apartment at all, it was 2 “chambres de bonne” the small rooms on the 6th or 7th floors of apartment buildings in Paris where the “help” lived (“bonne” – maid).
- One of the rooms was the “bedroom” with a “clic clac” bed (sofabed), a small bookshelf, a cupboard, a tv and some small built in cupboards that were so tiny they were useless. I had a clothes rack on wheels and stored a lot of stuff under the bed. I *did* have a small balcony (only 1 person could fit on it at a time and certainly there was no room for furniture but it felt like extra space in the tiny room.Oh there was also a coffee table that I shoved up against the window (unless I was entertaining in which case it became our “dining table”. We sat on the floor).
- The second room had a kitchen table, a few cupboards, a bar fridge, two hotplates and a sink. Oh, and a shower. Next to the sink. And another tiny balcony (those balconies saved me in those years – they made it feel like I had *so* much more extra room)!
- Wait…… I see you are wondering about the toilet. uh huh. Sur le palier – out in the hall. Thankfully it was a regular toilet (not the “Turkish” hole in the ground kind you often found attached to those apartments – for a brief few months in a space half the size of this apartment, in the same building, I DID have a toilet like that. It was… not fun) and I was the only person on that floor using it. But still… Yeah, the “apartment” was not quite complete…
Did that stop me from entertaining on the regular? Nope. Life is what you make of it and for my group of friends (mostly young English teachers from all over the world), we made the best of tiny apartments and tiny salaries. But when I look back on those days, I do marvel at just how “well” we lived. Despite, well, everything! Wine, bread and cheese were relatively cheap. Dining at someone’s house before we went out to a bar meant that we didn’t have to spend so much on drinks when we were out. Life was good in Paris in the late 1990s!
Today, when we are in France at our house (available for rent, didn’t you know?), life is a little different. Lazy apéritifs on the terrace, night markets, (check out the Nérac night market here), a much more casual way of life than the frenetic Paris of the 1990s. But no less entertaining in our lives there.
So when I read that Rebekah Peppler’s (of Apéritif) second book, À Table, was going to be “Recipes for Cooking and Eating the French Way” I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. Though I am typically in France a lot more than I have been in the past 2 years, I am always looking for ways to live “more Frenchly” when I am at home!
From the publisher:
À Table: Recipes for Cooking and Eating the French Way is an alluring, delicious invitation to the French table from Paris-based American food writer and stylist, Rebekah Peppler. It is both a repertoire-building cookbook and a stylish guide that will make readers feel as though they are traveling through France with a close friend.
New York Times contributing writer Rebekah Peppler shares 125 elegant, “new French” recipes that reflect a modern, multicultural French table. With approachable recipes, a conversational tone, and aspirational photography, À Table contains secrets for cooking simple, sophisticated meals and recreating the magic and charm of French life anywhere in the world.
À Table is a beautiful book (photographed by Joann Pai who has an exquisite eye) and it will have you dreaming of both travel to France and entertaining (two things that many people can’t do right now, even as Covid restrictions start to ease a little around the world).
Yes, it’s a cookbook but also a guide to how to entertain “the French way” (relatively) effortlessly. Peppler’s casual (but organised) quirky style makes entertaining feel accessible. Many overthink the whole idea of entertaining and shy away fom it because it feels like “too much work”. Especially if you add “French food” into the mix. Peppler breaks things down and simplifies not only the entertaining but also the cooking, offering recipes for classics
such as Ratatouille and Crème Brûlée; regional dishes, such as Basque Chicken, Niçoise (for a Crowd), and Alsatian Cheesecake; as well as recipes born of the melding of the cultures and flavors that help define contemporary French eating, from Bigger Bánh Mì and Lamb Tagine to Green Shakshuka.
So much food for thought here, literally… For today’s post I thought I would share some of Peppler’s wisdom for hosting so that when you are back to entertaining, you, too can entertain “the French way!”
Ten things I learned about entertaining the French way from Rebekah Peppler’s “À Table”:
- À Table translates to “to the table” in English and it’s what French people say when it’s time to eat – it’s the call to gather at the table. Sounds so much nicer than “Dinner time” or “Time to eat!” doesn’t it?
- Even if you have a tiny kitchen with limited storage space (like most Parisians), having a well-stocked pantry is key to being prepared to feed others. Peppler’s abridged pantry/ fridge items include: bacon, brined things (cornichons, capers, olives), butter, cheese, chocolate, citrus, condiments (mustard, preserves, harissa), dairy (including crème fraîche), olive oil, various flours, seasonings (salt, pepper, piment d’espelette), “tinned things” (anchovies, tuna), vinegar and wine and other alcohol (not just for drinking). Sounds like a lot but imagine what you can make with a kitchen stocked like this (in Paris or otherwise!).
- Always keep a “bonus bottle” of sparkling wine in your fridge because “life comes at you fast and there should always be cold bubbles ready for a toast, celebratory or otherwise.”
- If you’re invited to a person’s home who only has a small kitchen with no proper freezer (i.e. many people in Paris – me for 5+ years, not sure how I managed!), offer to bring ice to the party! Unusual but most likely a welcome item for anyone hosting guests!
- If serving charcuterie, it’s much better to have a lot of one really great item than a whole collection of middling quality meats. This is something Peppler feels strongly about – it’s “the hill on which [she] will die” (!).
- If you don’t want to offer a full-on dinner to guests, go ahead and invite them over for what is known as “l’apéro dinatoire” which Peppler describes as “the love child” of pre-dinner drinks and a multi-course sit-down dinner. Personally, I am a fan of a dinner composed entirely of substantial snacks and good drinks!
- Four things should automatically be on your table so guests don’t need to ask for them: salt, pepper, butter and water (I am SO guilty of forgetting these!!!!)
- When serving a cheese plate, three cheeses is a good number to choose: “enough so that one person doesn’t hog all the Reblochon, not so many that people can’t keep track of what each one is.” (I am so guilty of buying and serving too much cheese because I can never choose – I need to heed this advice too!).
- Always have some non-alcoholic drinks on hand for those who are abstaining from alcohol for whatever reason. Make them as special as that special bottle of bubbles and use cocktail glasses.
- A tiny kitchen or lack of large dining room/ space and/ or mismatched plates and glasses should not stop you from entertaining. Peppler and I are living proof of this 😉
Dreaming of France? Can’t get there just yet? Dreaming of entertaining? Can’t do that either just yet? À Table is a book you will enjoy.
Buy À Table for yourself!
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Disclosure: I was provided with a copy of ‘A Table’ from the publisher for review purposes. I was not asked to write about this book, not am I being compensated for this post. All opinions are my own and I only share products/ books I truly love and think readers will be interested in.
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